Right to Access to Information Law – RLAW

(Law No. 28/2017)

The Right to Access Information Law (RLAW) was passed after years of campaigning in order to allow the Lebanese to exercise their right to monitor the work of the authorities and public administrations. The law is composed of six chapters and 26 articles.

Chapter 1

The general provisions determined that every natural or legal person has the right to access information in an administration according to the provisions of this law. Also within the context of this chapter, it determined what is meant by administration; the state and its public administrations, public institutions, independent administrative bodies, courts, bodies and councils of a judicial or arbitral nature except sectarian courts, municipalities and municipal federations, institutions of public interest, other persons of public law and bodies governing sectors and privileges, in addition to private enterprises and companies charged with public utilities management and mixed companies. This enumeration includes but is not limited to the mentioned administrations. All types of public administrations and institutions have been specifically identified in detail, including mixed companies and private companies managing public utilities. Mixed companies are partly owned by the state or by one of its administrations or institutions and partly owned by the private sector, while private companies managing public utilities are characterized as administrations with privileged rights. As for the courts, it is determined that all the bodies with judicial status are covered by this law, except for sectarian courts. This confirms that if the legislator wanted to exclude any other judicial body, they would have named it. While the provisions specifying what is meant by “administration” were clear, several issues arose after requesting information from different judicial bodies, which we will further elaborate on throughout this report. On the other hand, this law defines what is meant by administrative documents that can be accessed, such as: written, electronic, and/or all documents that are electronically readable and in the possession of the administration. Afterward, it states that these documents include but are not limited to files, reports, studies, records and statistics, in addition to orders, instructions, directives, circulars, memorandums, opinions and decisions issued by the administration

RLAW also devotes a special article for administrative documents relating to personal information, which displays the importance it gave to personal matters, limiting the right to personal information solely to its owners. It also restricts the Right to Access Information to matters relating to public security, public safety and state security

Chapter 2

Titled “Publication Duty,» the second chapter specifies a number of documents that must be published without being requested such as: grounds for laws and decrees, as well as financial transactions exceeding 5 million Lebanese Pounds (LBP), and the annual activities report issued by administrations. Publications must go through the Official Gazette and the website of the concerned administration

Chapter 3

The third chapter defines the decisions that must be justified as those administrative decisions are not organizational and affect the rights of the applicant, specifying the conditions for the legitimacy of reasoning with the exception of specific cases that are exempt. In fact, the provisions of this chapter are only basic principles of administrative law imposed on each administration to avoid confusing the applicant

Chapter 4

This chapter determines how to submit a request for information. It must be in a written form containing sufficient detail that enables the information officer in charge to retrieve the information with ease. In addition, the information officer has to set a special record that shall be drawn up for such applications and a notification of receipt shall be given to the applicant upon submission. Each administration must assign an information officer to manage requests for information, and he or she must respond to the requests for information within 15 working days from the date of submission. If the application contains substantial information or if the information required has to be reviewed by a third party, then the original deadline may be extended for another 15 working days. The lack of a response during this time frame, however, is considered an implicit rejection of the request

Contrarily, if the request is accepted, then the information officer must provide the applicant with information or access to it. If part of the information required is subject to the exceptions set forth by the law, then only what is legally permissible is considered. In all cases, the information shall be available free of charge from the site where it is located. The cost of obtaining an image or a copy of the requested information is incurred by the applicant, and must not exceed the cost limitations specified by the law. Thus, if the request is rejected, this refusal must be justified in writing, and the administration shall inform the applicant of this refusal. The applicant then has two months to review the administrative body specified in the establishing law of the National Anti-Corruption Commission

As for cases of implicit rejection, the same provisions apply regarding reviewing the Anti-Corruption Commission. In addition, this chapter states that if the information is obtained from an administration, such information may not be used for commercial purposes unless it is arranged in an innovative way that makes it distinct from others, and only then may such information be used for commercial purposes, and in the case of National Archives documents, the deposit of documents within this institution does not prevent people from obtaining them. The only exempt documents under this law are referred to in the provisions of the Archives Law, indicating a requirement of 50 years for documents impacting the safety of the homeland or relating to personal status matters and 40 years for documents of a personal nature

Chapter 5

Furthermore, the tasks of the National Anti-Corruption Commission where listed in addition to its scope of work promoting the Right to Access Information as: differentiating complaints that have resulted from disputes due to the application of RLAW, advising the competent authorities on matters relating to the application of this law, publishing an annual report on the application of RLAW and the practical problems faced by applicants, raising citizens’ awareness and educating them on the importance of the Right to Access Information, while also stating how to issue a mandatory administrative decision through this commission within a two month deadline. Therefore, it is a binding decision that is subject to appeal before the State Consultative Council. Until now, however, more than a year after the ratification of this law, the National Anti-Corruption Commission has yet to be formed. This entails a flaw in the application of this law if a public administration violates it

Chapter 6

The sixth and final chapter of this law cancels all texts contrary to its provisions or contradicting its content, and refers its practical application to implementation decrees initiated by the Council of Ministers

Posted on July 9, 2018 in Right to Access Information project

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